Since he first trained with the U.S. Ski Team, Reggie Crist has followed the annual migration pattern of skiers heading to the Southern Hemisphere for the counter-cyclical winters in Argentina and Chile. The Eddie Bauer First Ascent ski guide now heads south not for speed training on boilerplate downhill courses and lodging in the Octagon but in search of deep snow, big vertical, and the chaotic, but flavorful, cultural experience that is South America. This past summer Reggie hopped the long international flight to Portillo, Chile, a remote location tucked on the crest of the Andes and the oldest destination ski resort in South America, with deep roots in ski racing, speed skiing and heli-skiing heritage. His photo gallery and first-person photo captions provide a window on the experience of the Hotel Portillo, the Roca Jack and the towering terrain of the Andes.
Images and Captions by Reggie Crist
The Andes are the longest coastal mountain range in the world, extending north to south through seven different countries. However it only takes 20 minutes to traverse the range, from east to west, in an airplane from Argentina to Chile. Gazing out the right side window reveals America’s highest peak, Aconcagua (22,837 ft), as well as the Southern Hemisphere’s first destination ski resort, Portillo (founded in the late 1930s).
It’s difficult to make out the chairlifts from 30,000 feet above sea level, but there is no mistaking the bright yellow hotel that sits lakeside. As a member of the U.S. Ski Team (’86-’96), I’d spend a month each summer training downhill at Portillo but I haven’t been back for over a decade, so naturally I was excited when Kim Reichhelm invited me to return to help her guide clients.
Navigating customs in Chile is always a daunting task, but the beauty of skiing in Chile is that you can ski on the same day as you arrive because there are four major resorts within 90 minutes of the capital city of Santiago.
The road to Portillo is also the main trucking route between Chile and Argentina, so when you see traffic backed up in the valley that can be a good sign, suggesting that the pass is closed due to excessive snowfall. With over a meter of fresh snow in the past 48 hours, international truckers are forced to spend the night roadside as skiers are allowed onward to chase powder.
Kim Reichhelm leads the charge to the freshies. Needless to say, Kim makes far fewer turns than the road below….
Portillo perks include majestic chair rides with stunning scenery.
Day three skiing at 10,000 feet and Mother Nature hits the reset button.
Taking advantage of low light situation by skiing around the rocks as Dani sends it over Gargantia, the mandatory air under the chair.
Portillo is famous for surface lifts like the Roca Jack, a modified high-speed Poma lift that provides access to the steep and deep.
Plenty of nooks and crannies to be found.
It’s fun to watch clients exceed their own expectation.
Getting a little rock star, Robert REG-ford producing some of his finest work.
Hotel Portillo attracts ski industry icons from all over the world, including legendary Alaska heli-ski guide Theo Meiners. It was a pleasure to reconnect with Theo before his passing just a few weeks later. His positive energy will be missed by the entire ski community.
It is always a pleasure to share clients’ ‘best day ever!’
The Inca Trail provides safe passage back to the hotel when the lake is not frozen, and a warm winter in the Andes mandated this route back to the chairs.
A little bit of billy-goating can lead you straight to the untracked goods.
A heli drop at Tio Bob’s is confirmation of rock star status at Portillo. But do the rotors spin counterclockwise in Chile?
One for the road…
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